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Social Inequality In Usa Sociology Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 2774 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Why do you think the U.S. is characterized by more inequality and fewer public efforts to reduce inequality than any other developed nation?

Capitalism cannot provide a decent standard of living for all, but as long as it can provide a tolerable standard of living for substantial layers of the population, it can maintain social stability. Recent studies have shown that the “middle America” begins to feel insecure, which points at the inevitable social problems.

The average salary is the salary, which includes both the income of the richest and the poorest. This amount is far from real wages of most Americans. According to the latest statistical review, in the period after 1998, when the U.S. economy grew by 25%, the average salary of one fifth of U.S. residents fell by 3.8%, while the salary of the rest remained at 1973 level (Hurst 132-34).

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While the economy was rapidly growing, this prosperity has not affected the middle class, not to mention industrial workers and the poor. Along with the freezing of income of the middle class, social inequality was growing. Since 1973 the annual revenue growth of 1% of the richest was 3.4%, and for 0.1% of the richest it was 5.2%. But for the remaining 90% this figure was 0.3% per year since 1973. Leaders of large companies were earning 26 times more than their employees. Now they are earning 300 times more (Crompton 98-102).

According to experts, children from families with low income have a 1%chance to get rich, while children of the rich have 22% opportunity. For the middle class the figure is 1.8%, not much more than for the poor. The middle class of America is more and more afraid to become poor. Families face a decrease in their incomes. The number of families, whose income fell to $ 20,000, has increased from 13% in 1990 to 17% in 2007 (Hurst 206).

Unemployment in the U.S. has reached the highest level over the past 20 years. Average duration of unemployment is 18 weeks. And, most often the unemployed have to accept a new job with less pay.

House owners (about 70% of Americans), after paying taxes, have to give 11% of their income for mortgages. Today, these people are insolvent. Today the average American family with two working spouses has to work for 32 weeks to pay taxes, medical insurance, credit for housing, and education. In 1979, they needed 28 weeks. After all these payments, such a family has less means for basic needs than in 1980. In the current economic situation, an average American feels much worse than 25 years ago (Hurst 57-60).

An average American works longer and harder than before just to make ends meet. And one increasingly has to take loans, family debt reached 120% of family income. Private pension funds are extremely small. Moreover, now pensions begin to be paid only after the worker invests a certain amount.

In this world richest country 45% of Americans have no pension program. Only 20% have a guaranteed pension. The same situation is in health care. The number of uninsured people reached 16%, i.e. about 45 million Americans will not get treatment if they get sick.

Despite all the efforts, most of the U.S. social problems do not disappear. Obviously, these are the negative effects of economic growth that exist in almost every post-industrial society.

Moreover, the distribution of wealth including personal property and shares has not changed in the U.S. for 200 years. Tiree and Smith managed to obtain data on the taxable property of persons who had permanent jobs in Philadelphia in 1789. Comparing these data with the distribution of income in 1949, 1959 and 1969, they found a completely equal distribution of wealth in these two periods. Both, at that time and today, dealers and persons of intellectual labor were richer than the workers and clerks (Hurst 89-93).

Since 1982, profits of American capitalists have grown considerably. This was achieved by reduction of salaries of workers, and increased exploitation. Thus, the rate of added value grew up while investments into new equipment have been reduced to minimum. Therefore the returns were growing.

Inequality of income distribution remains in American society despite various changes in the economy and many programs helping the poor. The privileges are established for those who have the power in any societies. People with high status often have a very visible political influence, which they can use to their advantage.

In the 1960s, the President Lyndon Johnson declared the war against poverty. The weapons of this war were tax cuts, retraining programs, educational programs and increased benefits. These actions were important, since it was estimated that between 1965 and 1975 the number of families below the poverty line was less than 5% of all families. However, since then many of these programs were reduced or abolished in order to stabilize the government budget. More positive results of programs have been undermined by rising unemployment and an increase in the number of poor families with single mothers. Therefore, in the U.S. there are still many poor families (Hurst 248-49).

How is social stratification a creation of society rather than simply an expression of individual differences.

The question of why there is social inequality is central in the study of society. It has two strikingly different answers. The first one was given by the conservatives, who argued that the unequal distribution of social benefits is a tool for solving the major tasks of society. Supporters of a radical approach, by contrast, sharply criticize the existing social order and believe that social inequality is a mechanism of exploitation of individuals and is associated with the struggle for scarce products and services.

According to the functionalist theory of social inequality, stratification exists because it is useful to society. Davis and Moore argue that social stratification is not only universal but also necessary; therefore, no society can exist without stratification and classes. The system of stratification is required in order to fill all the statuses that form the social structure, and to give the individuals the motivations to perform duties associated with their position. In this regard the society must motivate people on two levels (Crompton 57-59):

1. It should encourage individuals to take various positions, since not all the duties associated with different statuses, are equally useful for the human body, equally important for social survival, and require equal abilities. If the social life was different, the position would make no difference, and the problem of social status would be considerably smaller;

2. When these positions are occupied, the company should awaken in people a desire to play the relevant role, because the duties associated with many posts are considered as painful and in the absence of motivation many would not manage to do their roles.

These social realities have led to the view that society should have certain benefits that can be used as incentives for their members, and the mode of distribution of these benefits among different statuses. Inequality is the emotional stimulus that society has created in order to solve the problem of filling in all statuses and make their owners to do their best to fit the role. Since these benefits are built into the social system, social stratification may be considered a structural feature of all societies.

On the basis of the economic model of supply and demand, Davis and Moore concluded that the highest paid positions are those occupied by the most talented or skilled workers, as well as functionally most important ones. Thus, separate individuals who hold high-paying jobs, should receive remuneration, otherwise the post will remain unclaimed, and society will disintegrate (Crompton 115-122).

On the other hand, a person is born in a privileged or unprivileged position. For example, almost two-thirds of managers in 243 large U.S. companies have grown up in families of upper middle class or upper stratum of society. Basing on similar data, advocates of conflict theory claim that society is organized so that individuals’ rank is determined by birth and does not dependent on their abilities and characteristics of the society (Hurst 206-219).

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Advocates of the conflict theory believe that the stratification of society exists because it is profitable to individuals and groups with authority over others. While functionalists identify common interests of members of society, conflictologists focus on the differences of interests. From their point of view, the society is an arena where people are fighting for the privileges, prestige and power.

The theory of conflict is based largely on the ideas of Karl Marx. He argued that to comprehend the mechanism of a particular economic system one must know what preceded this system, as well as the processes that contributed to its development. According to Marx, the level of technique and method of organization of production determines the evolution of society in general. At each stage of history, these factors determine the group, which will rule in society, and groups that it will obey. Possession of means of production is only one source of power. Another source is the possession of means of control over people. The role of bureaucracy in society (exclusive control of national income and national wealth) gives it a special privileged status (Crompton 87-94).

Even in modern developed countries, individuals can flourish without property. Much of the power is provided by the position in large transnational corporations, rather than property. Employees do not merely possess a relatively small property, but their influence lasts only as long as they occupy a certain position. A very similar pattern is observed in the government. In this case, no class exists in isolation and independently of the other classes.

Sociologists are divided on the sources of social stratification, but they are united in the fact that social inequality is a structural aspect of the modern life of the whole society. Speaking about the structuring of social inequality, social scientists mean not only the fact that individuals and social groups differ in the privileges they have, prestige they receive, and power they possess. Structuring means that inequality in the society is institutionalized as a system. Inequality is not formed at random, but in accordance with the repetitive, relatively consistent and stable models: it is usually passed down from generation to generation, for which the individuals and groups with the benefits usually find appropriate ways (Crompton 54-58).

How do caste and class system differ? How are they the same? Why does industrialization introduce a measure of meritocracy into social stratification?

Inequality exists in human societies of all types. Stratification can be defined as structured differences between groups of people; the society consists of layers located in a hierarchical order, where the privileged layers are closer to the top and the underprivileged ones are at the bottom. However, class and caste systems are different in their essence (Crompton 41-43).

Caste system is primarily associated with the cultures of the Indian subcontinent, and is presented by four main classes (varnas), differing in the degree of social prestige. Below these four groups are the “untouchables”. There are also jatis in the caste system: local marginalized groups within which the division into castes takes place.

The caste system is very complex, and its structure varies from region to region, but it shares some common principles. Brahmins, forming the highest Varna, represent the highest degree of purity, while the untouchables represent the lowest one. Brahmins should avoid certain contacts with the untouchables, while only the untouchables are allowed to have physical contact with objects or animals, which are considered unclean. The caste system is closely linked with the Hindu concept of reincarnation, under which people who neglect the rights and duties of their caste should be born in their next incarnation in a caste, which occupies a lower position. In the Indian caste system, an individual is not allowed to move from one caste to another during his life (Crompton 65-72).

The concept of caste is sometimes used outside the context of Indian culture, e.g. in cases, when two or more ethnic groups are separated from each other, primarily for reasons of racial purity. In such circumstances, there are strict taboos (and sometimes legal prohibitions) on intergroup marriages. After the abolition of slavery in the southern states of the U.S., the level of disengagement of black and white population was so strong that the term “caste” is sometimes used for this system of stratification. There are also reasons to speak about the existence of caste system in South Africa, where rigid segregation remains between whites and blacks and where interracial marriages were until recently forbidden by law.

The class system differs from the caste system in many aspects. Let us consider the four of these main features (Crompton 105-113).

1. Unlike other types of strata, classes do not depend on legal or religious orientation. The class membership is not associated with the congenital status, whatever it was determined by – by law or custom. The class system is much more mobile than other stratification systems; the boundaries between classes are never clear-cut. Formal restrictions on marriages between people from different classes do not exist.

2. The class membership is achieved by the individual, at least partly, and is not simply “given” at birth, as in caste systems. Social mobility is distributed more widely, while in the caste system, an individual move from one caste to another is generally impossible.

3. Classes are related to differences in economic status groups, with inequality in the ownership of physical resources and control, whereas in caste systems, the leading role is played by non-economic factors (such as religion).

4. In caste stratification system, inequality manifests itself primarily in the personal relationships of people, in the difference between rights and responsibilities (Brahmin-Harijan). In contrast, class system is manifested mainly in the large-scale relations of impersonal nature. For example, the essential foundations for the class division are the differences in working conditions and payment, which relate to people of any category and, in turn, depend on the situation of the economy as a whole.

Thus, classes can be defined as large-scale groups of people with similar material resources, which in turn determine the lifestyle they lead. Class differences primarily depend on the welfare of people and kind of occupation. In modern Western society, the following main classes exist: the upper class (rich people, businessmen, industrialists, and the upper stratum of managers who own or directly control the means of production), the middle class (which includes the majority of white collar workers and professionals) and the working class (“blue collar” workers, or people involved in physical labor) (Hurst 327-333).

According to Weber, the division into classes is determined not only by the presence or absence of control over the means of production, but also by economic differences, not related directly to the property. These determining factors primarily include skills and expertise that affect the ability of the person to perform a job. People belonging to the categories of professionals and managers are also working for hire, but they earn more and have better working conditions than the workers. Qualification certificates, degrees, titles, diplomas and trainings place them in a more advantageous position in the labor market compared with those who do not have the relevant qualifications (Crompton 93-98).

Thus, the concept of status in the meritocracy society is associated with varying degrees of social prestige of social groups. The distinctive features of the exact status can be changed independently of the class division. While the class affiliation is an objective feature, the status, in contrast, depends on subjective evaluations of social distinctions by individuals.


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